Albemarle officials said Tuesday that a new approach toward economic development has led the Board of Supervisors to consider expanding the growth area south of the interchange of U.S. 29 and Interstate 64.
“This particular location that we’re talking about has moved to the forefront faster due to an interest in a very attractive business,” said Lee Catlin, assistant county executive for community relations.
In June, supervisors passed a resolution of intent directing staff to study whether several properties adjacent to the Virginia Eagle Distribution Co. should be added to the development area.
However, Catlin said at a community meeting Tuesday that the county has to keep the identity of the business confidential because the firm also is evaluating other locations.
“I wish I could share more about this business, but I don’t want this discussion to be about just this one business,” Catlin said. “Even if this business goes away tomorrow, this is the right place for us to take a look if there are strategic opportunities for the county as a whole.”
Catlin said the county has been focused on building businesses since 2009, when it first included an economic development chapter in the Comprehensive Plan.
Since then, the county participated in a “targeted industry study” that identified several potential kinds of companies that would be a good fit. These include bioscience, financial services, the defense sector and agribusiness.
Catlin did say that the potential business falls within one of the target markets. She said the county is looking at this land for development because it is within the jurisdictional area of the county’s water and sewer authority and close to transportation networks.
“This is a very unique place because of the convergence of the interstate highway and a major primary highway in Virginia,” said Faith McClintic, the county’s recently hired economic development director. “Having spent a lot of time in other rural communities, I can tell you they would kill to have one interchange like this.”
Catlin said the recent Comprehensive Plan update directed economic development staff to take a strategic look to see if there are more opportunities to increase the inventory of land that can accommodate business growth.
McClintic said the county has identified at least 19 businesses currently located in Albemarle that are running out of space.
“If we can’t find somewhere for them to grow and expand, they’re going to go to another community,” she said.
This review is perhaps the first of several such location-specific studies that will be conducted to boost economic development efforts. Since 1980, Albemarle has designated 5 percent of the county’s 726 square miles for development, with growth restricted in rural areas in the rest of the county.
“Our job in looking at this area is to analyze and provide an assessment to the decision-makers and really give them the information they need to determine how the boundary should be adjusted if that is to take place,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning.
One audience member asked if the county had ever initiated its own growth area expansion.
“There have been development area expansion requests that have been based on owner’s interest in the land,” Cilimberg said. “In terms of responding to a business prospect, I don’t recall us doing that before.”
Attendees had about an hour to ask questions about the project and the process.
“What really concerns me about this is that now we’re talking about expanding the growth area down 29 south,” said Jeffrey Gleason, a resident of nearby Sherwood Farms. “We haven’t talked about the inevitable stop light. You can imagine how things will change dramatically over the course of our lifetime if we move in this direction.”
Cilimberg said the Virginia Department of Transportation will review the potential impacts of additional traffic on the interchange. However, a full traffic study would not be conducted until a rezoning is approved, which would be necessary if the growth area is expanded.
Others pointed out the potential for regional conflict.
“If development will extend farther down 29, the county has to anticipate that Lynchburg and Campbell County will unleash the dogs of war in Richmond and cram a bypass down our throats,” said Richard B. Barnett.
Many attendees thanked the county for slowing the process down, but told officials they need to proceed as transparently as possible.
“All we have to go on at this point is your word that you’re going to be considerate,” said Steve Brown, also of Sherwood Farms. “You’re going to meet a lot of resistance from the community unless basic questions are answered.”
The Planning Commission is set to hold a work session July 21, and a second community meeting is scheduled for July 30. The commission expects to hold a public hearing on the matter Aug. 18. And the Board of Supervisors is set to hold a public hearing Sept. 9, following its own work session.
McClintic said the prospective business is willing to wait until the process is completed.
“They can go anywhere but this particular company wants to be here because we fit in with their values related to a good quality of life for their employees,” she said.